There is some interesting yet disconcerting information in a story published this week by the Associated Press on difference in the mortality rate between Eastern and Western Washington.

The gist of the report is people in Eastern Washington are more likely to die of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other common causes of death than people in Western Washington. The report was conducted by researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

While we think of ourselves as Central Washington, for the purposes of this story, the 20 counties on the east side of the Cascade range were considered Eastern Washington.

According to the report, the cause for the discrepancy may be tied to poverty and less access to health care.

Those are important factors to keep in mind as we go about our business in Kittitas County and make decisions on issues like investing in health care facilities and strengthening the local economy or job base.

Kittitas County does differ from other areas of Eastern Washington. We are, obviously, closer to West Side medical facilities. While the county is a collection of small towns, compared to our more agricultural neighbors to the east, our small towns are not as remote.

We also have very good emergency medical services in both Upper and Lower County, which makes a huge difference when outcomes are influenced by the rapidly of medical care received.

But we do have issues with access to various levels and types of health care, as well as a generally lower income base than our big city kin.

It is not a shocking revelation that wealthy people can afford better health care. But from this county’s perspective it is not so much what an individual can afford and it is as what the community as a whole can support.

Kittitas County Hospital District 1 is the linchpin for our medical care in this county. The district operates our hospital — Kittitas Valley Healthcare — and it contracts to manage the Kittitas County Hospital District 2’s facilities in the Upper County.

Over the past decade or so, KVH, has steadily became the primary employer of physicians, replacing the private clinic business model.

While some may bemoan the loss of the independent practitioner, this consolidation does give the public a direct and defined avenue for commenting on and influencing level and scope of health care services.

If you read the statistics on mortality and want to influence the level of care, then the Kittitas County Hospital District 1 board of commissioners is that direct conduit.

Addressing the income levels is a more difficult task. There are two ways to address the income element — either increases wages earned or decrease the cost of health care so access is not wealth-based. It’s hard say which one would be more realistic more or less realistic.

The poverty rate could be improved by everyone being paid more for the jobs they currently perform or by somehow attracting jobs that pay more. The catch with second approach is the people currently living here working the lower wage jobs may not qualify for the higher wage jobs. So, in a real sense, raising the economic profile of the community, would not improve their access to health care.

Which brings us back to not just Kittitas County’s but the nation’s issue with affordability and access to health care.

While this report may not change anything, it does highlight that this issue is very much one with life and death consequences.

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